CLIMATE BILL NOT DEAD YET…. By late Saturday, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced his intention to walk away from his own proposal, it looked like the climate/energy bill, poised to be unveiled today, was just about dead. The tri-partisan Kerry/Graham/Lieberman package — labeled the American Power Act — faced an uphill climb anyway, but with Graham walking away at the 11th hour, the future looked bleak.

By late yesterday, however, the bill’s “prospects were brightening slightly,” and Graham was once again talking strategy with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

After talking with Graham on Sunday morning, Kerry and Lieberman prepared to move ahead without him if necessary. But a Senate aide said they were increasingly optimistic that Graham would return. His presence adds the crucial imprimatur of bipartisanship to the bill, which is likely to stall without it.

By all accounts, the White House is also acting to prevent the bill’s collapse, and Rahm Emanuel and Carol Browner, among others, worked the phones over the weekend.

What’s more, if Graham’s main concern is over the calendar — he balked because he believes Dems want to tackle immigration reform ahead of the climate bill — Harry Reid’s main spokesperson is signaling flexibility. It’s clear that “climate negotiations are much farther along than the immigration bill,” Jim Manley said, meaning that climate “could be the first to come to the floor.”

So, the good news is, the climate bill isn’t quite dead, at least not yet. The bad news, however, is that Graham — who still hasn’t quite explained the specific rationale behind his outrage — now has even more leverage over the outcome than he did before. Indeed, the dominant aspect of this debate has, all of a sudden, become, “What can Dems do to make Lindsey Graham happy.”

On a related note, the WaPo had some good reporting today on the behind-the-scenes efforts to line up support for the effort from the business community.

[T]he bill’s authors focused on doing what amounted to a legislative bank shot, lining up support among business interests the bill would impact, in an effort to get them to convince wavering senators to embrace the package. They held dozens of closed-door meetings with groups ranging from the American Gas Association to the National Mining Association and the Portland Cement Association, including one meeting this spring in which 30 officials from different business groups gave what one participant described as “their elevator pitch” for what they wanted in the bill. […]

The senators doled out rewards to different groups in order to bring them on board, providing more free pollution allowances to the utilities sector, even if that meant less money to protect tropical forests overseas; ensuring that 37.5 percent of the revenue generated from new oil and gas drilling offshore would go to the coastal states closest to the drilling.

The horse trading infuriated some environmentalists — Clean Air Watch president Frank O’Donnell said the bill “ought to be named ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ ” — but it helped neutralize some corporate opposition and brought on board influential backers such as the Edison Electric Institute and three of the nation’s five biggest oil companies.

“It has the broadest support that’s ever come together for an energy and climate bill before,” Lieberman said, adding he is convinced several business leaders “will be our most effective advocates in convincing the undecided senators to get off the fence” in the weeks ahead.

Sounds like they might need to help convince Graham, too.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.